Media Academics as Media Audiences
Aesthetic Judgments in Media and Cultural Studies
In this chapter I want to argue that the dismissal of aesthetic considerations from much work in media/cultural studies—a foundational gesture aimed at distinguishing academics from both “naïve” consumers and “imposed” ideologies—does not, in fact, work to install critical rationality or desired neutrality (Barthes 2005). I will suggest that via its anti-aesthetics (see also Sandvoss, this volume) much cultural studies work has constructed cultural distinction for itself by implying that its scholars are exempt from the domains of fan culture and/or popular culture (Hills 2002, 2005b). However, such a fantasized exemption has not at all produced an escape from “popular aesthetics” (Bird 2003) but has instead recoded aesthetic judgments within the supposedly pristine spaces of academia.
If attempts to displace aesthetics produce only distorted shadows of the very problematic they seek to short-circuit, then might aesthetics not be returned more positively to circulation in cultural studies? As Hunter and Kaye have pointed out, scholars are usually “urged [ … ] not to take aesthetic judgements for granted. We should understand them instead as [ … ] exertions of social power” (1997: 3). But what would aesthetics look like if it were not treated merely as an ideological imposition?
By way of exploring this possibility, I will suggest that a rehabilitated aesthetics might emerge from the fact that media academics are themselves members of media audiences (Osborne 2000; Wright Wexman 1999), quite apart from the issue of whether or not they are also media fans. Curiously, debates in media/cultural studies have frequently returned